Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Mac Is Not Perfect

It's been a little over a year since I switched my primary home computer from a Windows XP Pro machine to a MacBook Pro. I guess anything with "Pro" in the name is ok by me. During that time, I've learned a lot more about being productive on the Mac. However, there are still some things that, in my opinion, Windows does better. (Gasp! Can he be serious?)

Yup, I'm serious. I'm certainly no Windows evangelist, and I do admire the Apple emphasis on product design. But there are certainly things that are just plain harder to do on a Mac.

1) Using the mouse. Since Macs have always had mouses, the system was designed around usng a mouse for some functions. Windows, on the other hand, evolved on a mouse-optional platform, so you can do absolutely everything from the keyboard. When I'm doing text-intensive things, keeping my hands on the keyboard is much more convenient and comfortable.

2) Resizing from anywhere. On Windows, you can resize a window by grabbing any edge of that window and dragging. On the Mac, you have to use the lower right corner. Smaller target equals harder task ... Human Factors 101. In fact, I like how Windows gives you 3 clickable window size options: small, full-screen, or minimized. On the Mac, you can use the green "dot" in the upper left corner of the window, but the results are unpredictable!

3) Menubar location. On Windows, the menubar is always right at the top of the window you're working on, so it's nearby. On the Mac, it's at the top of the home screen. If you have dual monitors it may be on a different monitor altogether, a good foot and a half or so from your work area!

4) Closing windows vs. exiting the application: On windows, closing all the open windows for an application exits the application. If you have sneaky little windows hiding behind other windows, that can be confusing, but generally, it's a pretty simple model. On the Mac, closing a window just ... closes the window. The application is still sitting there, waiting for your next urge. Now maybe this is just the result of my years of Windows use, but the Windows model seems more intuitive to me.

5) The mouse plugs into the keyboard?! Boy, is that ever a pain in the neck. For that matter, how come there are no "natural" Mac keyboards? I've used these for years on Windows, and I find them really ... uh, natural. Could that be one of the rare cases where design aesthetics trumped usability?

6) ... Well, I can't think of any others at the moment, but I'm sure I will later.

Meanwhile, there are a few areas where I was hoping the Mac would offer a better experience than Windows, but found that it doesn't. Chief among these? The Mac still keeps nagging me to install software upgrades that will require restarting my system. Why is that? I worked on various *n*x systems for years, and never had to restart to install software. Even X Windows just had a command to re-load the database after you edit the configuration files.

More later.


Peter Davis said...

Ok, maybe it's narcissistic to comment on my own blog, but I thought of number 6 ...

On Windows, the Alt-Tab combo lets you cycle through all the open windows, to select exactly which one you want. On the Mac, Alt-Tab cycles through open applications, but if an app has multiple windows open, you can only get to the top one this way. Then you have to use the app's Window menu to get to a specific window, which my be hidden behind another and thus not mouse-able.

Ruth McNally Barshaw said...

It's good to hear affirmation for my choice to stay with a PC (it'd be really, really expensive to switch at this point), but I have to say I was captivated by the recent point on the illo list about a Mac surviving a fall down the stairs.
And the idea of one lasting 8 years. My PCs last 8 years, sure. But they get so slow and cumbersome, I can't wait to upgrade after 4 years.
I guess what I dislike most about computers is planned obsolescence.